Reading habits: fiction versus non-fiction


Do you read more fiction or non-fiction? Do you aim for a balance of the two? Have these habits changed in your life over time?

I used to be a big fiction reader for the first half of my life; but at some point in the 2000’s I’d say I began losing interest in fiction and gravitating more towards non-fiction, especially history and biographies of historical figures. Around the same time, I shifted what interest I had in fiction from prose fiction to poetry. Looking back on my life, If I had to pinpoint a reason why I would bet it was the experience of graduate school, where I had to read a lot of ethnographies and social science articles, that made me more of a non-fiction reader.

I feel guilty about this turn of events, but I’m not sure why? Maybe it’s because I view fiction as ‘art’ and non-fiction as simply information and analysis, but I have to say I derived as much enjoyment from the last non-fiction book I read, ‘Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight’ by Paul Hoffman, as I could from most novels. I guess I just become pickier and pickier about fiction, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing.


I prefer non-fiction because I’m usually disappointed when I read modern fiction.

Long story short, authors don’t tell the stories I want to read.

However, one of my friends started a book club and it really was successful, so I’ve been reading more current stuff so I’m not disgraced when I meet with the lovely ladies (they’re not actually that strict of a group—one book I totally didn’t read at all and I didn’t get a hard time about it ).

But it’s just confirmed my opinion that most modern fiction is boring.

But we have fun snacking and chatting. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


@0Scarlett_nidiyilii Have you tried Alice Munro? She’s pretty amazing. She’s a short story writer, though, not a novelist.


I lean towards non-fiction, but enjoy some science fiction when I am in the mood.


I greatly, greatly prefer non-fiction. I only make an exception occasionally when a fiction book just happens to strike my fancy or it’s one of the classics of literature.

When I do read fiction, I have a very strong preference for old fiction written prior to the 80s, the same way I like old movies from before the 80s. I liked some 80s books (the standard Jay McInerney/ Bret Easton Ellis etc. canon about young people trying to figure out their lives, and some of the books about old hippies in middle age that came out around that time) but I pretty much read all of those in the 80s already.

Having read a lot of true crime (I started to do that way before it was popular and my husband used to bring me true crimes as little courting gifts when we were first dating…another reason I knew he was a keeper), the true stories are often far, far more interesting and better than anything a fiction writer could come up with. Plus, I just like reading about how other people live and what they do all day, the same way as when I ride a train I look at all the houses it passes and imagine who lives in them and what it would be like to live there.


I read much more fiction when I was in school, like the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia, but after that, mostly nonfiction. Since retiring, I have included some fiction again, like Dostoevsky (heavy) and the Brother Cadfael books (light) but my reading is still predominately nonfiction, and almost always something to do with the Church.


@Tis_Bearself did you always have a preference for non-fiction?


I liked fiction better when I was in school up through college. I really liked and to some extent still like/ prefer young adult fiction. I also read a lot of fiction that was on reading lists for my English classes, a lot of renowned authors and such. Some of the books were really good, some of them were awful. I also read whatever fiction my parents had around the house, mostly Cold War political thrillers and whatever books were in the old Readers Digest Condensed editions.

In those days we had really limited entertainment options as my parents only had 3 channels on the TV for most of my childhood and then they got UHF which added like 2 more channels, but they didn’t get cable TV until about the point when I was moving out of the house. I also wasn’t allowed to go to the movies very much and didn’t have the money to go or the transportation to the decent movie houses even if I’d been allowed. There was no internet either. So getting library books for free and reading them was a major source of my entertainment as I didn’t have much to do.

I would play games with the fiction books, like I would start reading a book not knowing how it would go and would make up a cast list for the parts based on the characters’ descriptions and picking out actors and celebrities to fill the parts based on the description…then see who ended up getting together with whom. That was fun. It was like making my own miniseries.


Light fiction, and heavy non fiction.
Keeps me somewhat balanced, lol and I love both.


I prefer fiction. Fantasy is a genre I love.


Sounds a lot like my childhood. In fact I’ve often wondered if had I been born in recent years whether I would have turned out such an avid reader, since there are so many things now (internet, cable tv, netflix, video games) in the home itself to distract one’s attention away from reading. Neither of my kids are the biggest readers and I often wonder also whether it’s because of all these entertainment options.


One of my unexamined assumptions in this thread has been that there’s something valuable about reading fiction, because even though it’s not real per se it has something to teach the reader about the human condition. So while the pragmatist may argue that only reading non-fiction is worthwhile because it teaches things such as facts and so forth, fiction also teaches but in a more esoteric sense. This is something I internalized at a young age and it’s what causes me anxiety today about not reading enough fiction. I guess I’m assuming we all need a certain amount of fiction in our reading ‘diet.’


The fiction nowadays usually just doesn’t seem to be about anything interesting. I don’t like genre fiction like horror, fantasy, sci-fi or romance, and I don’t like all the dystopian stuff like Hunger Games or Handmaid’s Tale. What’s left over often seems to be fictionalized stories about real-life events. Why would I read that when I can just read about the real-life event?


That’s the question, isn’t it? I guess all fiction is about real life events, or is inspired by them, or begins with a writer saying ‘what would happen if …’

I know what you mean, though; most contemporary fiction doesn’t seem all that intriguing to me. As if I’ve read it all already, or something similar.


I know all the old fiction books were “inspired” by real life events for the most part too, and that stories like “Gone with the Wind” were genre fiction. It just seems like it was written much better then. I remember some Jodi Picoult book on a death row murderer that came out while I was in the middle of defending someone on death row and let’s just say her book didn’t exactly seem to be on the level of “All the King’s Men”.

I’m trying to remember the last new fiction book I really enjoyed. I think it was “White Oleander” back in about 2000 before the movie came out. I grabbed it on a whim from the train station bookstore, I was just in the mood for it I guess. I thought it was very well written with many interesting characters.

Edited to add, I wanted to read “The Lovely Bones” too but I haven’t gotten around to getting all the way through it. Read part of it and read the Cliff Notes to it.


I get this strange sensation or reaction once in a while when I pick up an older book and start reading it, of ‘wow! this is real writing!’ This happened recently while reading ‘A High Wind in Jamaica’ by Richard Hughes and before that, while reading ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Wolfe. It’s as if writers back then had license to really write (perhaps some would say overwrite) their hearts out, whereas today’s writing by comparison tends toward flatness and minimalism.


I often doubt that “today’s writers” even write their own stuff, it’s that bad.
Unless a book is winning the Nobel Prize…and even that is suspect now due to all the turmoil within the Nobel committee that hands out the prizes.


Who’s writing it for them then?


Unnamed hacks or “editors”. I am sure the publishing industry is chockablock with such people.

I had a friend for a while who had gone through a well-ranked creative writing program and then worked in publishing. He told me that a lot of the big name authors he was tasked to work with were really rather a mess and needed handlers because they had alcoholism or other disorders. He eventually quit the whole field and became an executive headhunter.


I once worked in a small literary agency and sometimes when an author was having problems with a novel they would hire a ‘book doctor’ to fix it. It usually didn’t make anyone happy (the author would lose their distinctive voice as they lost control over their characters and plot, etc.) or produce something that was more publishable than the original. It might read more conventional (i.e. more linear plot, more ‘likeable’ characters) but it didn’t necessarily bring out the aspects of the novel that made it appealing in the first place, in fact it usually eliminated them.

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